It had been 188 days since the Oakland A's played an official baseball game, and every one of those days was like a dull ache resonating through the body of every A's fan. The 2014 season turned from a magical dream into a horrible nightmare in the blink of a rapid eye movement. The ending was cruelly tragic enough to have been written by Shakespeare, and the reward for fans was watching all of their favorite players get traded away, again. For 188 days, we waited, convincing ourselves that this trade was smart and that one would work out, looking forward at all costs because explaining the past had grown tiresome. Only one thing could save us, and that was Opening Day of 2015, a chance to write a new story and slowly forget the old one. Never mind that the A's had lost 10 straight Opening Day games as well, making even the supposed salvation of the onset of a new season seem potentially fleeting.
But fear not, Athletics Nation. It's a Sonny new day in Oakland, and the storm clouds of 2014 seem to have vanished as quickly as they appeared, at least for now. Young, budding ace starter Sonny Gray carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, new star Ben Zobrist homered in his first at-bat, Stephen Vogt added a majestic dinger of his own, and the A's rode some sensational defense to an 8-0 victory over the Texas Rangers. It was their first Opening Day triumph since 2004, when they beat ... the Texas Rangers. It doesn't matter right now if the team's performance was for real, or if this will prove to be a great but illusory debut by a squad that ultimately falls flat. Don't think about that now. Just embrace the cathartic feeling that this perfect victory gives you. It was absolutely everything we could have asked for.
The A's wasted no time setting the tone in all facets of the game. Sonny started with a 1-2-3 first, but he got help from his defense along the way -- Sam Fuld made a sliding catch to rob leadoff hitter Leonys Martin of a gapper, and Brett Lawrie and Ike Davis connected on an impressive play as well. In the bottom of the frame, Fuld blasted a one-out stand-up triple -- coincidentally just out of the reach of Martin at the wall -- and Ben Zobrist followed by homering in his first at-bat as an Athletic. Just like that, it was 2-0 A's.
The green and gold struck again in the fourth. Ike Davis led off with a walk, and with one out Stephen Vogt doubled down the left-field line. Marcus Semien followed with a flare to center that landed just in front of Martin, allowing Davis to score. Texas starter Yovani Gallardo got a big second out and went 0-2 to Craig Gentry, who looked completely lost at the plate all day. But then, right as he was on the verge of escaping the jam, he uncorked a wild pitch that let Vogt scamper home for another run. Kitten Face struck out tamely on the next pitch. 4-0 A's.
Oakland loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, knocking out Gallardo along the way, but then left them stranded. Normally, that would have been maddening, but things were going too well to be upset about anything. Can't cash in on every rally, right? Besides, they made up for it in the seventh. Billy Butler drew a one-out walk, and Lawrie, who had looked to that point like he'd either had too much Red Bull or not enough, smoked a liner to center for a single. That brought up Stephen Vogt, and the chants began. I. I believe. I believe in. I believe in Stephen Vogt. And if you believe hard enough, your wish might just come true. Vogt unloaded on a slider from reliever Phil Klein, and just like that it was 7-0 A's.
While the A's hitters were busy pummeling the Rangers pitchers, Sonny Gray was spinning a no-hitter. He hit Rougned Odor with a pitch in the third, and in the sixth left fielder Zobrist lost a liner in the lights and clanked it off his glove for an error. Otherwise, every Rangers hitter had been retired, often with some flare by the A's fielders. He had only struck out three batters, but there also wasn't a lot of really hard contact off of him -- the fielders were good, but they were robbing singles, not doubles or homers.
But then, in the eighth inning, Ryan Rua shot a single through the right side and the no-no was gone. Rua was quickly doubled off on yet another nice defensive play, but the damage had been done. Sonny finished off the inning with a walk and a groundout, but his chance at national history was gone and he'd have to settle for a place in A's history -- the stopper of the Opening Day skid.
It feels lame to admit, but it's probably for the best that Rua got his hit. An Opening Day no-no would have been awesome, but an Opening Day shutout is good enough for me and I'd rather not mess up Sonny's year by having him throw 118 pitches in his season debut in a quest for a piece of history that doesn't include a ring. A long outing here and there isn't a problem, but this early in the year teams usually like to take it a bit easier on their starters (especially their 25-year-olds) and let them work up to bigger pitch counts. This probably won't be the last time he flirts with such a special game, so I'm satisfied with a sterling 98-pitch outing in lieu of a truly historic one.
The A's tacked on one more in the bottom of the eighth when Billy Butler knocked in Eric Sogard, and then Evan Scribner came in to wrap things up. Scribner didn't enter a game with a lead of fewer than seven runs last year, and in his debut this year he had an eight-run cushion. As usual, he cleaned up quickly, striking out a pair in a perfect 15-pitch inning. And just like that, the streak was over, with the A's coming out on top 8-0 and kicking off the year with a 1-0 record.
Player of the game: Sonny Gray (8 innings, 0 runs, 1 hit, 1 walk, 3 Ks)
Green and Gold Gloves
As I've said many times, Oakland's defense was superb. Some of the sources of that glovework were expected, but some were pleasant surprises. A quick rundown:
- Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry are simply excellent outfielders. Between them, Josh Reddick, and Zobrist (notwithstanding his whoopsie tonight, as he adjusts to a new home park), there aren't going to be a lot of balls falling in the gaps. The crazy thing, though, is that the outfield wasn't the truly impressive thing tonight. They weren't called on to do much at all. The infield stole the show.
- Brett Lawrie has range, and he has an arm. His throws were a bit wild on the tougher plays, but he got them close enough to record the outs. Honestly, he reminded me a lot of Josh Donaldson in the field.
- Ike Davis is slick. He dug a couple of low throws from Lawrie, and he connected with Sonny on two fantastic plays. Both times, on grounders between first and second, Ike ranged way too far to his right to field the ball. Sonny, realizing the vacancy at first, sprinted over faster than I've ever seen a pitcher get there and snagged a perfectly led throw from Ike for the out each time (once on a backhand, once on a full throw). They completed both plays so fluidly, worked together so unconsciously, that it felt like they'd been teammates for years. This was their first game together. Ike later made an unassisted double play on a line drive toward the end of the evening. (He drew two walks and played sharp defense, but sometimes ranged too far from the bag -- I know, sounds just like Daric Barton, but at least Ike has power too.)
- Marcus Semien was a pleasant surprise. His first chance came in the third inning, on a grounder just to his right; he got himself into proper position, fielded it cleanly, and snapped a quick throw to second for a force out. His next one was a routine grounder, which he handled easily. But his third play was the truly impressive one. He ranged at least seven steps to his left (up the middle), plucked the ball from the dirt, took one beat to set himself, and delivered a perfect throw on the run to first in time to beat Odor to the bag. I didn't know if Semien was capable of making such a play, and now that I know he can I am even more excited about him. It wasn't a Web Gem or anything, but it would have been "pasta diving Lowrie." I was impressed by all parts of Semien's defense -- his range, his hands, and his arm. This is highly encouraging.
- Eric Sogard made a nifty diving play on a grounder by Adrian Beltre in the seventh. Nothing Earth-shattering, just the kind of solid play Sogard makes all the time but is easy to take for granted. He also went 2-for-4 at the plate. Not a bad day for the guy who wasn't supposed to be starting.
... But will the A's hit for enough power?
One of the biggest questions heading into the season was whether the A's would be able to muster up enough power to score runs. No one on the team is a specifically good bet to hit 20 homers, and three of the guys in the Opening Day lineup were slap hitters with virtually no power to speak of -- Gentry, Fuld and Sogard might hit five long balls between them all year.
Well, we got our answer on Monday, or at least a strong first impression. Yes, this lineup can put together some runs. The highlight was the pair of dingers by Zobrist and Vogt -- two guys who aren't even supposed to be the heavy lifters.
But those weren't the only fireworks set off by A's hitters in this one. Fuld's first-inning triple was off the wall and got there in a hurry, considering that it eluded the range of one of the best and speediest outfielders in the game (Martin). Zobrist and Vogt each added doubles down the line as well, Zobrist's pulled and Vogt's to the opposite field. Butler showed up to the party a bit late, but his double was smashed into the corner. Heck, if Lawrie's line-drive single had been elevated just a bit it likely could have sailed over the wall too. There's some thump in these bats, and we still haven't seen Josh Reddick, Josh Phegley, or Mark Canha yet.
Bob Melvin was only barely above-average last season when it came to his managerial challenges. He succeeded on 14-of-26 tries for a hit rate of 53.9 percent, just above the average rate of 52.6 percent. His first one of 2015 was a no-brainer, though. Butler rapped a grounder to short, and Elvis Andrus flipped to second to force out Fuld. However, the throw was juuuust a bit wide, and second baseman Odor had to stretch to reach it. Before he could get his foot back on the bag, though, the ball slipped out of his glove; the call on the field was an out, but the replay was clear enough to overturn it easily.
Unfortunately, this was the inning in which the A's ultimately left the bases loaded, but it was still cool to win the first challenge of the year.
You're not dreaming, folks. The game was real, and it was spectacular. It had Sonny taking the next step forward into acedom. It had the new additions doing exactly the things we hoped they'd do. It had offense, and it had defense, and best of all there was no late-inning comeback by the opponent, not even a meaningless run at the end to spoil the shutout. Yes, this game had everything, and it was exactly what all of us needed to see.
The Oakland A's are in first place after the first game of the season for the first time since 2004. It's a Sonny new day.
The next game is tomorrow, weather permitting. It might be a Sonny new day, but that doesn't guarantee that tomorrow will be sunny. It's hard to root against rain in the Bay Area right now, but ... can you wait til next week, by any chance? If we have a game, then Baseballgirl will have your thread.